Some very interesting insights into Pixar’s success!
Oren Jacob, the former chief technical officer of Pixar, provides a rare glimpse into company culture.
Recently at Jump, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oren Jacob, the former chief technical officer of Pixar, in front of a small group of invited guests. Oren shared a number of fascinating stories of what went on behind the scenes at Pixar during his 20 years there.
During his tenure at Pixar, Jacob helped the company grow into one of America’s most successful companies (all 12 of Pixar’s full-length feature films to date have been blockbusters!). You need only spend five minutes with him to realize he embodies everything we have grown to love about Pixar movies. He speaks passionately, shares emotional stories that resonate with everyone, and yes, he is quite animated (even leaping off his stool to emphasize a point).
But what strikes me most about Jacob is his ability to cross traditional organizational, academic, and industry principles to make great stuff happen. He is the epitome of a hybrid thinker. A mechanical engineer by training, he has played significant roles at Pixar beyond creating Pixar University and the company’s own proprietary software platform to manage the animation pipeline. He was also an integral part of the storytelling process and a steward of company culture.
Throughout Jacob’s talk were lessons on how to use hybrid thinking to solve the large, ambiguous challenges within organizations (the visual illustration of the talk, by Jump’s Jonathan Gabrio, is pictured above). While much of the discussion fell under the “What happens in Vegas” rule, I was able to net out a few takeaways that Oren was comfortable sharing with a wider audience. Here are five principles I heard:
1. When It Sucks, Say So.
In December of 1998, Pixar had finished three years of work onToy Story 2. The movie was set to be Disney’s end-of-the-millennium shining star. The problem was the movie wasn’t very good. With just eight months left to finish production, Jacob did the unthinkable and, after talking it through with his producers, went to the executive team and told them that Toy Story 2 didn’t pass muster. In fact, Jacob and a few others said the movie was horrible and might ruin the company if released as it was. After watching the movie, Steve Jobs, Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, and President Ed Catmull, and others agreed and set in motion the plan to overhaul the movie.
The movie was completely rewritten and produced in the remaining eight months. Toy Story 2 went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed Pixar movies of all time, but only because Jacob and others on his team had the guts to say the work wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t something they could believe in.
It’s easy to be lulled into thinking creativity lives and breathes better when free of criticism. While quick judgment can kill great ideas in the nub, a straight-up, critical assessment is just as important as any brainstorm technique.
Be honest with yourself. When the work isn’t great, say so. Then get to work making something you can believe in.
2. Defend Your Opinion, Then “Hit Play Quickly.”
The production process at Pixar is a lengthy one, with many groups participating and weighing in at various stages. A critical point in the process is called the Notes Session. It’s when several key individuals, such as the director and head writer, sit down to watch the full movie. They then capture changes that need to be made on notes and hand them back to the team (hence the name Notes Session).
These can be stressful times for everyone. Depending on the notes, a lot of rework could be ahead for the teams. Jacob explained that while you aren’t required to make the changes written on the notes, you better have a darn good explanation for why you didn’t. Yet spending too much time explaining why you didn’t make the changes can be suicide. “Keep your explanations brief, then hit play quickly,” Jacob said. Let the work speak for itself.
The same is true in creating new businesses. Avoid falling into a meta-discussion that derails the much needed momentum. Instead, let people experience firsthand what you are creating.
3. Look Upstream for the Source of the Problem.
Jacob explained that when someone is confused watching one of your movies, 99.99% of the time it’s not because of what’s happening in the scene. The problem usually lies earlier in the movie. Either the characters weren’t developed well enough or pieces of the story weren’t explained thoroughly. If you simply react and change the scene at the point where someone got confused, you’re chasing a red herring. Instead, it’s important to think about why someone doesn’t get it and focus on fixing that.
This principle is applicable to many processes within organizations, particularly to developing new offerings, platforms, and businesses. Before reacting to feedback, ask why someone is seeing things the way they are. You might discover what needs to be changed is back upstream.
4. Match the Medium to the Message.
Early on in his role as director of studio tools, Jacob realized that the company needed to create its own software platform to manage projects throughout the production process. After all, Pixar knew animation better than anyone, and there was no point being at the mercy of a software company that was mainly interested in serving the needs of the video game industry.
When it came time to pitch the idea to executives, including Steve Jobs, Jacob chose to explain his argument with hand sketches–50 pages of them, to be exact. Why? Because “storyboards are the currency of the building.” Jacob had also learned the hard way that if an idea is too polished it will evoke negative criticism rather than help to push the idea forward.
The sketches worked. Jobs approved the unprecedented budget request and said, “Don’t screw it up.” Pixar’s next movie, Brave, coming out in 2012, will be the company’s first fully developed film with this new, proprietary software platform.
Sketching storyboards and acting out scripts are the currency of ideas at Pixar. Try a variety of different media to find what works best for you and your organization.
5. Hire for Excellence.
When Pixar is evaluating potential hires they look for three traits: humor, the ability to tell a story, and an example of excellence. These aren’t unique qualities to assess in applicants, but how excellence is defined is not that common. It doesn’t matter what you are excellent at, just that you have reached a level of excellence. It’s important that you know what excellence feels like and what it takes to achieve it. It could be gardening, jujitsu, or cooking. The main thing is you’ve had a taste of excellence and will know how to get there again.
What do you hire for? Is a taste of excellence one of your requirements?
It is because of hybrid folks like Jacob, who see past the status quo to create better systems that enable greatness, that we stand a chance to solve the toughest, most ambiguous problems facing our world today. Hopefully, these pointers will prove useful in your own hybrid approach.
[Illustration by Jonathan Gabrio, copyright Jump Associates]
Some very interesting ideas – great tips for someone who needs help in organizing their productivity. Check out these details from I Will Teach You To Be Rich:
Earning More When You Have No Free Time: How a full-time law student earned $50k on the side
In my research of over 100,000 people, I discovered that one of the top 3 barriers to earning more is “no free time.”
So how did Liz, one of my former students, earn $50,000 on the side as a law student? With a part-time job? And a new baby?
Today, she’ll share how. By the way, Liz is contributing this writeup as part of Women’s Money Week 2012.
Take it away, Liz…
* * * * *
Last year I earned over $50k on the side. On the side of what, you ask? Attending a top law school full-time, working part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer, and starting a family. My son was born in November. How did I find the time and energy to do all this?
As a blogger, freelance writer, and website optimization consultant, I earn anywhere from $20/hr to $250/hr. Before incorporating the following principles I averaged $26/hr. But with these principles I doubled my hourly average to over $53/hr.
Here is how I incorporated many IWT methods into the 3-step approach I used to earn $50k on top of my already packed schedule.
Step 1: Take the Time to Prepare
Instead of “just getting started,” I prepare for success by setting up triggers and establishing accountability.
Set Up Triggers
In my favorite IWT interview, Stanford Professor BJ Fogg identified the three things you need for behavioral change: motivation, ability, and triggers. A trigger is reminder to do something now. For instance, placing a bottle of vitamins next to your bed is a cue to take your vitamin before you go to sleep. For me, triggers are the key to success. To earn more money in less time, I set up triggers that help me stay on task.
Here are my top three triggers:
- Place a Prewritten To Do List Next to My Computer — Each night before going to sleep I make a list of everything I need to accomplish the next day. I leave the list open next to my computer, so it’s the first thing I look at each morning when I start work. Doing this triggers me to immediately start working on the listed tasks and not get sidetracked.
- Have My Computer Open and On — I used to wait several minutes for my laptop to turn on each morning. While waiting, I would read emails on my phone and get distracted from that morning’s priority tasks. Now, I leave my computer on as a trigger to get right to work.
- Remove “Bad” Triggers — Because triggers cue you to do something, it’s critical to remove triggers that cue you to start the wrong task. Now, as a nightly ritual I remove anything from my workspace that would trigger me to start working on the wrong task.
Accountability is a powerful motivator. When you’re accountable you work more efficiently and you save time. Before I start a project I set up mechanisms to ensure that I will be held accountable.
Here are the top ways I establish accountability at the outset of a project:
- Work With Other People — For the biggest project I’m currently working on, I hired an independent contractor and gave her a stake in the outcome of the project. Working with another person motivates me to work when I might otherwise give up because I don’t want to let that person down.
- Set Deadlines — For any project I work on I set deadlines for myself. But that’s not always enough of a driver so I also tell whoever I’m working for when the project will be done, even if they haven’t given me an end date. Telling someone else the deadline holds me accountable to them.
- Pay For Services — I’m one of those people who has to pay for a gym, even though I know I can exercise for free at home. Why? Because knowing that I’m paying makes me go. The same is true of work. For one of the websites that I run, I wanted to start a monthly newsletter. So, before I had an exact plan for the newsletter, I signed up for a monthly subscription service. Knowing that I was paying for the monthly subscription service held me accountable to start the newsletter.
Step 2: Balance Certainty with Risk
My second strategy for making more money in less time is balancing projects that are certain with projects that are risky. Just like you allocate your investment portfolio between riskier investments and stable investments based on your needs and risk tolerance, you should also balance your time between risky projects and those that are certain to generate income. Balancing your time between risky and certain projects allows you to earn more money in less time.
Before I explain why, let me clarify what I mean by certain and risky.
Certain projects are those when you know you’ll make money and you know how much you’ll make. Most consulting and freelancing projects are examples of “certain.” If you know, that you will make $50 for writing a piece of content, and you also know that this piece of writing will take you no more than 2 hours, this is certain.
Risky projects are those that could earn you money — and hopefully more money than you’d earn with a certain project — but you don’t know if you’ll earn anything. Or when. For example, blogging, building apps, or running a startup are all risky. Even working for free to get a client in the door is risky. These projects are risky.
The bottom line is that a certain project guarantees that you’ll make a specific amount of money for doing a specific task, a risky project guarantees nothing.
Why Take on Both Certain and Risky Projects?
Some people might argue that you should only ever take projects that are certain. But the only way to earn more money is to take on more risk. The greater the risk, the greater the potential reward.
Another reason I advocate taking on risky projects in addition to certain projects is that, with time, they can turn into certain projects. For example, if you intern or take on a side project for free to show a potential employer your skills, that employer will likely end up hiring you (provided you’ve done a good job). I’ve interned at an organization for free, and once they saw my skills they hired me for a paid position. Another example is a blog that I started which led to a $250/hour consulting gig with a Fortune 100 company. The blog was risky (because it took time to create without knowing I would earn anything) but with time led to certain income.
Calculate the Certainty/Risk Balance That’s Right for You
To determine how much time you should allocate between risky projects and certain projects ask yourself three questions:
- How much money do I need?
- How much time do I have to get that money?
- What’s my tolerance for risk?
Last year, my goal was 1) to earn $150 a day in side income, 2) by the end of the year, and 3) with minimal risk.
So I allocated my time accordingly. I increased the number of projects I worked on that were certain to generate income (up to 80% of my time). And each day I did whatever I could to ensure that I earned $150 that day. For some of my consulting gigs this was only about a half hour of work. For other freelance projects, that required over 2 hours of work. And some of my writing gigs required 5 or more hours of work to achieve this goal. But, by allocating my time towards projects that were certain, I got the result I wanted.
This year, I’ve shifted to riskier projects. Right now instead of allocating my time so that I make a set dollar amount per day, I allocate over 75% of my available time to risky projects. I know that if I need to I can scale up the consulting gigs that are certain to make me money, but I love the thrill of trying something new and the possibility of having a huge payoff. These gambles are what make work fun for me.
Always Have Some Certainty
I recommend always having some certainty in your side projects. Besides the financial cushion certainty brings, when risky projects aren’t going as well your projects that are certain will build confidence and help you overcome your fear of failure. There’s nothing as confidence building as getting off a consulting phone call where not only did you help someone with their business problems, but you also earned side income. Success from certain projects gives you the confidence and skills you need to continue with risky projects.
Step 3: Protect Your Productive Time
Even when I’m prepared and have projects certain to bring in side income, last year would have not earned me more money in less time if I had not discovered how to protect my productive time. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many small tasks eat away at our most productive hours of the day.
Find Your Productive Time and Space
Before I was able to use my productive time effectively, I first had to know exactly when I was productive. Ramit’s writing on testing helped me identify and maximize my productive time. I recommend starting with Test Responses at Bars, Testing Your Assumptions, and How a Beggar Uses Data to Optimize Donations. Use these methods to test to find out what time of day you’re able to get the most accomplished.
Don’t Let Anyone Mess with Your Productive Time
Once you’ve figured out when you’re most productive, protect that time and don’t plan anything during it. Seriously, during your productive time don’t schedule:
- doctor appointments
- coffee with friends
- or anything but those tasks for which you absolutely need full concentration
Personally, I’m a morning person. I get the most done between 6 am and 11 am. When I rescheduled the two things that used to consume most of my morning hours (taking classes and exercising) I was able to use those hours to more quickly and efficiently get the things done that require the most concentration. In the afternoon, writing an article used to take me 1-2 hours. In the morning, I can get it done in half the time.
Spend your productive time working on the tasks that require the most focus and will make you the most money.
“What if I have a 9-5 job?”
If you have a day job, decide how to divide your productive time. Ask yourself:
- Will you earn more money if you are more productive at your day job?
- Can you leave early if you’ve completed all your day job work?
- If the answer to both of the previous questions is “no,” can you rearrange your work schedule?
Then, allocate your time based on your answers to these questions. For example, if your most productive time is from 7am to 1pm and you earn more money at work if you get more done, ask your boss if you can rearrange your schedule to start work at 7am.
If you don’t have a flexible schedule or workflow, then test to determine your most productive hours during your normal work schedule. Adjust the factors that do have control over to get the most done in the least time.
“How Can I Earn More Money in Less Time?”
If you want to earn more money in less time this year, these 3 action steps will help get you started. Try implementing at least 1 step of this system for the next week. After a week, evaluate and determine how you can incorporate that step into your long-term work plan.
In the comments, leave the step you are going to implement this week and how you will implement it. Be specific.
If you want more case studies — including the word-for-word scripts they use — start here.
Perfect timing on this – I am about ready to have some new business (or calling) cards designed for me by 5Sparrows. Some cool ideas to contemplate!
From Inspiration Feed:
Even thou we are quickly moving into the digital age where physical branding is becoming electronic, a business card is still a great way to meet new contacts. Whether its personal or business based, business cards are always a great promotional tool to have handy when the right time strikes. If they don’t contact you right away, later on you might pop up in their radar. If you are in need of some brilliant business card printing, church printing will have you covered! It’s been quite sometime since the last business card design inspiration. There has been tons of creativity around the design community. More and more great designs have been pumped out during the new year. We hope you will appreciate this collection, and of course get inspired!
It is looking more and more like the much-awaited IPO (initial public offering) filing might happen as soon as next week! Stay tuned as this will be a big one!
Background on just how big this could be is here: How Facebook’s Expected $100 Billion IPO Breaks Down | Dan Likes This!
Facebook is reportedly planning to file for its much-awaited initial public offering, with The Wall Street Journal reporting today that the filing could happen as early as next Wednesday. The report, citing people familiar with the matter, also indicates that the social networking powerhouse is considering Morgan Stanley to lead the deal.
Facebook is already a juggernaut, and the IPO could raise $10 billion and command a valuation for the company in the range of $75 billion to $100 billion. (Just to put that number in perspective, Amazon.com currently boasts a market value of $88 billion).
That would make it the largest IPO on record, according to the Journal. Facebook operates an engineering center in Seattle with about 70 employees. It employs about 3,000 people worldwide.
Chatter has accelerated about a possible filing in recent days after trading of the company’s private shares in the secondary market came to a halt on Monday.
The tech industry has been waiting with patience for a Facebook IPO, with some hope that the offering could reignite the market for public offerings from tech companies.
Some great tips from my friends at Gist:
Effective social networking isn’t about building out your Facebook profile correctly or using the right Twitter hashtags – it’s about promoting meaningful connections between people, no matter whether you do your networking online or offline.
So if you feel like you aren’t yet reaping all the benefit you could from your interpersonal connections or digital acquaintances, check out the following tips for improving your social networking skills:
Tip #1 – Be polite and professional
This should almost go without saying, but given the level of discourse that exists in some online arenas, it seems prudent to issue a reminder that first impressions still matter and that you can do a tremendous amount of damage with one poorly thought out statement. Whether you’re connecting with people online or offline, default to a polite and professional demeanor to avoid damaging your public perception before you even have the chance to form good connections.
Tip #2 – Focus on making connections
In many cases, the magic of social networking occurs when you take personal considerations out of the picture. Forget about how each contact you make will benefit you or your business in the long run and focus on how every new acquaintance you make can help others you know. As you get better about putting people in contact with others who can help them, you’ll start to see some of this generosity being returned to you in forms you may not expect.
Tip #3 – Don’t spam
Although there are plenty of people using social networking sites and offline business networking events to move products, keep in mind that their primary purpose is to build connections between people. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your elevator pitch as an introduction, it shouldn’t be the only thing you bring to the table. Be helpful, polite and courteous – as your public perception grows, you’ll find people seeking out ways to buy from you without you having to resort to spammy sales tactics.
Tip #4 – Provide helpful information
Focusing on sharing helpful information – whether you do so in person or through the social networking sites you frequent – helps to build your perceived value and authority within your industry. And although you may not see an immediate return on the time you invest in helping to answer other peoples’ questions or solve their problems, trust that this goodwill and generosity will come back to you in the form of increased business opportunities in the future.
Tip #5 – Be a person, not a brand
Yes, building brand recognition is important, but that’s not what networking is about. Networking is about person to person connections, and there’s nothing cheesier than someone who insists on inserting brand mentions here where they don’t belong. Instead of thrusting your brand name upon people at every turn, trust that if you’re interesting enough as a person, people will seek out more information about you and your business.
Tip #6 – Follow up after each conversation
Remember how your grandmother told you to send a thank you note for every gift you received? Social networking works the same way! Whenever you make a new connection – even if you don’t think it’s a connection that will lead to opportunities down the line – make it a habit of following up with a quick email, phone call or mailed note. You’ll never know what a new connection could lead to unless you make it a priority to practice good follow up techniques.
Tip #7 – Explore new opportunities
With any business activity, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for you in the past. However, this narrow mindset prevents you from identifying and taking advantages of new opportunities to build quality business connections when they appear.
So to avoid getting stuck in your “tried and true” approaches, make it a priority to seek out new opportunities to connect with people in your industry. Maybe it’s a local networking group in your area that you’ve never tried before or a conference you haven’t attended. You might even benefit from studying different methods for interacting on social networking websites and changing your strategies if you haven’t seen good results with these sites in the past.
Tip #8 – Ask to help out
Whether you attend offline networking events or participate in online social gatherings, there’s always an organizational component that must be overseen for the event to run smoothly. In some cases, these organizers commit their time out of love for the project. But in many other instances, these managers are overworked and overstressed themselves – meaning that an offer of assistance will go a long way towards forming a valuable new connection.
Truly, all of these tips point to one thing – that the “Golden Rule” applies to social networking as much as anything else. Treat other people the way you’d like to be treated through your online and offline networking activities, and you’ll be amazed at the results!
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